Don't Worry About Maxime Bernier

September 1st, 2018  | J. Hodgson

Conservatives need not worry about Maxime Bernier and his new party of libertarian agitators and here’s five reasons why.

1. His pension

Maxime Bernier became an MP in 2006 and for most of his years in government he was a cabinet minister. So over the past 12 years, he’s earned somewhere in the neighbourhood of $2.6 million dollars. Rules regarding pensions changed in 2016, requiring Members of Parliament to hit 65 years of age, (rather than 55 years of age) before cashing in their full pensions. Pension entitlements earned before 2016 were grandfathered in... thus allowing Maxime Bernier to begin collecting his pension as soon as he’s 55 years old.

How old is Maxime Bernier? He’s 55 years old! What a coincidence! Basically Max is entitled to start collecting his guaranteed $60-70 thousand (or so) annual pension for the rest of his life starting... now!

What’s my point?

My point is that Maxime had nothing to lose at this exact point in his political career. He’s set for life, so the pressure is off to be a team player. Worst case scenario is that he loses his seat and his project doesn’t what? He’s set for life now. Why not try something new?

This whole “new party” scenario is taking place over the safety net of a massive guaranteed life-long pension. How serious is he really?

2. His book

His book was presumably about his political vision for Canada, but captured within the pages was his bitterness about the outcome of the leadership race. The party wouldn’t let him publish his book and he allowed them to win that battle...temporarily, but he still has the book written and ready to go, so what better way to create some big publicity for it than to leave the Conservative Party and start your own enterprise? His leaking of chapters regarding the outcome of the leadership race was a tease and a test in order to see what kind of reaction was received. The party of course didn’t like this and told him to knock it off. This also got him demoted and estranged from the party. This was the beginning of the end for Bernier’s commitment to the Conservative Party.

Watch for his book to be promptly published, followed by a cross-country book tour that will double as a party building exercise. The important point, however, will be to raise his profile even more and make some nice extra cash on those book sales.

3. He’s not going to build a national party

He’s not going to be able to build a new national party from scratch and have it ready to go by October 2019. That timeline is ridiculous. When the Reform party began they had roughly one year to contest the 1988 election and could not field even 1/4th the candidates required for every riding. Where’s the money going to come from? Will the money come from the same 55,000 people who selected Max as their final ballot choice in the leadership campaign? Even if they each gave $10 for a new party membership, that would raise $550,000.00

That’s about half of what the NDP raise in a quarter, and look how successful they are these days.

Perhaps Max is betting on the, “If you build it, they will come!” philosophy, however, it’s unlikely. The fact that he performed so strongly in the leadership race means nothing in a general election. Any political party membership in Canada is fringe and nerdy and having 55,000 supporters doesn’t mean anyone outside of that hardcore group is going to respond to you or your ideas.

Max is also a hard sell in a general election. English Canada won’t respond to his thick accent and his libertarian ideas. The average disengaged, uninformed voter is going to take one look at Bernier in his fancy suit and broken English talking about cheese supplies and they’re going to say, “What the hell is this about? Who is this guy?”

There’s also the question regarding Max’s dedication to doing drudgery-type work. Politics is fascinating when you live in the realm of history and philosophy and policy and principle and speech-making and debates. The problem is that so much of the nuts and bolts of politics is just like everything else...drudgery. It’s spreadsheets and executive board meetings that drag on about nothing and group pandering and organizing boring things like rides and bills and offices. It’s not fun. It’s not exciting. It’s boring. It’s a grind. It’s a lot of hard work.

It’s like the difference between going for a canoe ride and building your own canoe from scratch. You have to be really dedicated and interested in the details and specifics in order to make a canoe from scratch. Is Max going to do the equivalent of making a canoe from scratch? A guy who reportedly fell asleep during meetings with Harper? A guy who seemed to get quickly bored with every assignment? A guy who started a week-long vacation the day after he made his new party announcement? A guy who checked out from his own party when he didn’t get to lead it?

Seriously, a national threat to the Conservatives isn’t going to be a problem, however…

4. He’ll probably be a Quebec threat

Once Max realizes (if he hasn’t already) that a full-fledged national party isn’t going to be ready for 2019, he’ll probably focus instead on Quebec. According to the polls, the CAQ is set to win a definite mandate this fall. For those who don’t know, the CAQ is basically Quebec’s provincial conservative party. (Check out the CAQ website in order to see what they’re about. It’s much more of a European-style conservatism. Basically a right-wing NDP of sorts. Likely a winning strategy as conservatism moves forward.) If Bernier becomes the federal equivalent of this party and cultivates connections with those voters, he’ll make huge inroads in Quebec.

Furthermore, the Bloc is dead. Where are those 821,000 votes going to go? Probably not to the Liberals. Certainly not the NDP under Jagmeet. Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives? Maybe...but doubtful. Here comes former separatist and now “Quebec-first” libertarian with a CAQ platform...Maxime Bernier! He is going to look pretty attractive to this crowd.

Max could easily win 20, 30, 40 seats in Quebec, but what does it mean? It probably means Scheer’s Conservatives will lose their 11 seats in Quebec, but it also means that it will be difficult for the Liberals to get a majority, so there’s that.

5. He’ll disappear if he fails

The other potential is for this whole thing to flame out before it even gets going. If the prospects are too dim or the money doesn’t arrive or the workload is too much...Bernier will likely just call it quits and go dabble with a think-tank of some sort. Hopefully his bitterness will fade with some more time and reflection and his desire for political engagement will be less spiteful.

Deep down he must realize that it’s not Scheer that’s to blame for his loss, it’s the nature of democracy itself. Bernier is bitter that his conservative principles, principles he suppressed during the Harper era for the sake of power and “being a team player”, proved to be his undoing. Here’s the infamous excerpt from his yet-to-be-published book:

During the final months of the campaign, as polls indicated that I had a real chance of becoming the next leader, opposition from the supply management lobby gathered speed. Radio-Canada reported on dairy farmers who were busy selling Conservative Party memberships across Quebec. A Facebook page called Les amis de la gestion de l’offre et des régions [Friends of supply management and rural regions] was set up and had gathered more than 10,500 members by early May. As members started receiving their ballots by mail from the party, its creator, Jacques Roy, asked them to vote for Andrew Scheer.

Andrew, along with several other candidates, was then busy touring Quebec’s agricultural belt, including my own riding of Beauce, to pick up support from these fake Conservatives, only interested in blocking my candidacy and protecting their privileges. Interestingly, one year later, most of them have not renewed their memberships and are not members of the party anymore. During these last months of the campaign, the number of members in Quebec had increased considerably, from about 6,000 to more than 16,000. In April 2018, according to my estimates, we are down to about 6,000 again.

A few days after the vote, Éric Grenier, a political analyst at the CBC, calculated that if only 66 voters in a few key ridings had voted differently, I could have won. The points system, by which every riding in the country represented 100 points regardless of the number of members they had, gave outsized importance in the vote to a handful of ridings with few members. Of course, a lot more than 66 supply management farmers voted, likely thousands of them in Quebec, Ontario, and the other provinces. I even lost my riding of Beauce by 51% to 49%, the same proportion as the national vote.

At the annual press gallery dinner in Ottawa a few days after the vote, a gala where personalities make fun of political events of the past year, Andrew was said to have gotten the most laughs when he declared “I certainly don’t owe my leadership victory to anybody…”, stopping in mid-sentence to take a swig of 2% milk from the carton. “It’s a high quality drink and it’s affordable too.” Of course, it was so funny because everybody in the room knew that was precisely why he got elected. He did what he thought he had to do to get the most votes, and that is fair game in a democratic system. But this also helps explain why so many people are so cynical about politics, and with good reason.

Yes, but what is starting your own party going to correct? The nature of the system is the problem. Throwing another party into the mix isn’t going to do anything. Former CPC MP, Monte Solberg, has an interesting take from the Reform days.

If Bernier actually launches his political project and it bombs next year, he’ll probably just leave politics and retire anyway. He’s got his pension and hopefully some of that $2.6 million from the last 12 years to play with, so I would hope an easier path to just living the good life becomes attractive to him and he forgoes the whole party building futility.

That’s a lot of speculation and conjecture, but what fun is politics without it? Maxime Bernier is keeping things interesting, but it’s nothing for the Conservative Party of Canada to worry about. The big dreaded “vote-split like in the 90s” is a boomer assessment with TradCon thinking. Scheer still needs to take Bernier’s criticism to heart though, and make some changes before the next election. This incident has the potential to sharpen and forge a stronger and better Conservative Party. Enough with the complacent malaise and cuckservatism. Time to move forward with some boldness and strength! Time to focus on the real problem: Justin Trudeau.

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